Guardians of the Gulf

Green and Gray in Tampa Bay

St. Petersburg, FL: the challenges of grAy infrastructure, storms, flooding

Bayboro Harbor: Runoff, storm pollution (St. Petersburg, FL)

Bayboro Harbor borders the USF St. Petersburg campus. These images and the video, taken in the summer of 2023, show the challenges of runoff and gray infrastructure like seawalls. During storms, pollution enters the water from the storm drains.  In this case it’s helpful to have a “watergoat” that collects the trash before it further pollutes the harbor and eventually Tampa Bay. Credit: Renate Gottsche, USF College of Marine Science.

Gray Infrastructure challenges (St. Petersburg, FL) 

According to the Florida Department of Emergency Management, more than 40% of St. Petersburg is considered a high flood risk area. Floods can take place on sunny days when high tides overwhelm stormwater systems and, of course, during storms and hurricanes when storm surge may also be a factor. These flooding events are predicted to increase in the coming years. See, for example, this story highlighting work by USF CMS professor and associate dean, Dr. Gary Mitchum -- Projections of US high-tide flooding show rapid increases and extreme months | USF College of Marine Science. The images shown in the video show examples of high-tide flooding and storm-related flooding, and in some cases, a combination of both.

The power of hurricanes

Hurricane Nicole: Florida east coast

Hurricane Nicole caused tremendous damage to the Florida east coast in November, 2022. Coastal erosion and flooding damaged homes, businesses, and livelihoods. This video captures some of the harrowing action from this storm, which occurred on the heels of another damaging hurricane caused Ian. Credit: Max Chesnes/Tampa Bay Times, @MaxChesnes

Green Infrastructure Examples in Pinellas County, FL

Philippe Park Living Shoreline (Safety Harbor, FL)

Safety Harbor, which is home to the Tocobaga Temple Mound, is the site of an ongoing, large-scale living shoreline in front of Philippe Park, a popular recreational spot. A team at the USF College of Marine Science led by Dr. Mark Luther and Dr. Steve Meyers is helping to evaluate the success of the living shoreline by measuring the intensity of wave action in the area (caused by wind and boats). The living shoreline includes oyster reefs and native plants such as marsh grasses. Pinellas County has been ensuring that volunteers help with the project.  As you’ll see in the images, installing living shorelines is a lot of work, takes a lot of hands, and can be a lot of fun!  Kudos to the volunteers. Photo Credit: Michael Ballard; Video Credit: Pinellas County.

Ozona Living Shoreline (Ozona, FL)

This is another living shoreline installed by Pinellas County, working with Ecosphere Restoration Institute. The seawall borders a road. It had some rock at the base but no vegetation so the team installed a “breakwater” made of an array of oyster bags. Breakwaters are structures parallel to the shore that “break” or reduce the energy of incoming waves. They planted native plants between the rocks.  Look at the progression in the “before and after” images. Credit: Tom Ries, Ecosphere Restoration Institute.

Weedon Island: The magic of mangroves (St. Petersburg, FL)

Mangroves are a type of green infrastructure and one of the best assets that Nature provides for coastal resiliency.  They keep coastlines healthy and safe. They stabilize the sediment with their giant roots and slow down incoming waves. Did you know that every square mile of a mangrove forest can reduce storm surge by one foot? Enjoy these snapshots of an impressive mangrove system at Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Credit: Robin Cooper,, 2023.

Green Infrastructure Examples in Tampa, FL

Ulele Springs Living Shoreline (Tampa, FL)

Ecosphere Restoration Institute led by Tom Ries installed a living shoreline at Ulele Springs between 2011 and 2014 – turning plain gray infrastructure (the seawall) into a greener and softer version that is more resilient to storms (and prettier!). The work involved installing rocks embedded with soils and a variety of native plants, including saltmarsh grasses and mangrove seedlings. After just three years, the mangroves were already seven feet tall. They provide habitat for seabirds and other marine animals. Credit: Tom Ries, Ecosphere Restoration Institute.

Stewart Middle School Living Shoreline (Tampa, FL)

Ecosphere Restoration Institute led by Tom Ries installed a 2000-foot-long living shoreline at Stewart Middle School between 2009-2011. This site had a severely eroded bank covered with tall lead trees that were dangerous for school children. Lead trees are invasive species that outcompete native species. The work involved removing the invasive trees, installing small rocks, and re-sculpting the shoreline with native plants and a coconut mat. Coconut mats are 100% biodegradable and help slow erosion while also allowing plants to take root. Today, 13 years later, this shoreline is completely stabilized, with no erosion and easy access for teaching purposes. Credit: Tom Ries, Ecosphere Restoration Institute.

Ignacio Haya  Living Shoreline (Tampa, FL)  

This is another living shoreline installed by the City of Tampa, with the help of Ecosphere Restoration Institute. Ignacio Haya is a linear park named for the man who built the first cigar factory in Tampa. The shoreline was eroding away due to the wakes from boats passing under the Hillsborough Avenue Bridge on the northern boundary of the park. The team first removed invasive plants and installed a breakwater made of rocks to help decrease incoming wave energy and help stabilize the shoreline. It’s easy to see how the health of the shoreline improved over time! Credit: Tom Ries, Ecosphere Restoration Institute.